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David B. Garner is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and Pastor of Teaching at Proclamation Presbyterian Church (Bryn Mawr, PA). Pastor, professor, and author, he has also served as a missionary, ministering in Europe and Central and Southeast Asia. From 2003-2007, he served as Director for TE3 (Theological Education for Eastern Europe), a regional theological training ministry based in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Article by David Garner

Saving Faith - A Gift of God

October 19, 2015 •


Evangelicals uniformly acknowledge the necessity of faith. But what actually is this faith we affirm? Or to put it more personally, what changes in the one who lacks saving faith and subsequently possesses it? What should we say, or even believe, about believing?

Saving faith gets center stage in the next few articles, as we consider where it came from, what it is, and how to recognize it.

Faith from Above

We appropriately begin with God, because faith comes from him.  It is his gift to his people. Contrary to some arguments, saving faith does not rely upon human intellectual power, moral change, or emotional state of mind. Faith in Christ Jesus is not conceived, conjured nor contrived by the unbeliever. Instead, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).

Scripture insists upon the divine origin of faith, and while explicit in this passage, through the sixty-six books of the Bible, the Spirit of God unwaveringly negates human contribution—or even the capacity for contribution—to salvation. Not even faith appears on the “human side” of the ledger.  

Rather, faith registers on the divine side. Spiritually dead people do not exercise any Spiritual muscle, including faith. Or to put it more brusquely, sinners dead in their trespasses do not resurrect on their own. Spiritually dead men do not breathe Spiritual life. For this reason, Westminster Confession of Faith 14.1 establishes the divine origin of faith from its opening words: “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts.”  Faith is a “grace,” that is, a gift, of God. It descends from above.

Faith from Within

As the Spirit descended on Mary and brought life to her womb, so the Spirit of Christ descends on the sinner and awakens him or her to the truthfulness of the gospel. Spiritual light flows not from the darkened, blinded sinner, but from the Spirit who enlivens and illumines. Light and life come from the outside in, not from the inside out.

Once dead in trespasses and sins, the redeemed sinner awakens to the power of Christ’s cross. Formerly in darkness, the sinner sees light and only then exercises Spirit-given faith. By the Spirit’s ministry, the transition from unbelief unto belief is radical, but it is worth noting, the conception of faith not always humanly discernible. This invisible factor does not preclude the radical principle.

Like a woman who becomes pregnant, the moment of conception is not always known. In due course, however, the mother and those around her discern the new life within. This subsequent evidence of new life leaves the antecedent conception beyond doubt.

Faith and Song

The truth of the divine origin of faith resonates in the souls of the redeemed. We know salvation and our ability to believe it is all of him. We rejoice in it, sing of it, and celebrate. Faith is melodious. Grateful song bursts forth from the unfettered and joyful heart of the redeemed (Colossians 3:16).

And as we joyfully believe, and indeed we do the believing (God does not believe for us!), we know that we do so because he has given us the precious, gracious, and saving instrument of faith. Bestowing the gift upon us, God enables us to trust him. And trust him we do! Now equipped with this new stewardship and capacity, we eagerly and willingly believe to the saving of our souls.

The gift of God, faith willingly and joyfully casts its gaze on Christ, puts its grasp on Christ, and rests in Christ. Faith embraces the God who has embraced us in his Son, Jesus Christ. How do we know that Son? God has spoken to us in his Word.

How does saving faith relate to that written Word? That question occupies part two.

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